The Catalonian government wants to hold an independence vote on November 9th that the Spanish government says is illegal.
Compared to Scotland, where a referendum was negotiated between Edinburgh and London, the disagreement between Barcelona and Madrid makes the whole process more complex for Catalonia and its people.
With time the independence debate has filtered down to Barcelona’s working class and beyond to the suburbs and their non-Catalonian wards and districts.
In Carmel for example, perched on the hills, many residents are from Andalucia in the south, and there are many recent arrivals from the rest of the world. Do these people want to leave Spain?
José Ángel Rodríguez is a 38-year-old Spanish and Catalan Socialist trades unionist. His first language is Spanish but he has recently changed his position on independence, which he now conditionally supports.
“There’s always been this independence of identity based on language, culture, and a personal identification with an idea of nation. But there’s another independence that’s not based on identity. It says I can be Spanish, I can feel Spanish, and also be and feel independent. I can justify both. Because it’s not a question of identity, it’s a question of conviviality, of society.
“Franco died and in 1978 Spain built itself around his right wing, and the democratic right, and the democratic left. In 2014 we want to build Catalonia with the democratic right. Catalonia cannot just be a creation of the left, this is a mistake. The building of a new society needs to be done by everyone, the immigrants, the bourgeoisie, the left, the right, the rich and the poor.”
To the east lies Badalone, an extension of Barcelona that is Catalonia’s third largest town. It has a conservative mayor – a member of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party.
Aritz Bel is 17 and an activist for a Catalonian independence party, the ERC. He will be old enough to vote on November 9th.
“I think you identify with a state that you feel loves you, and I feel that the Spanish state has done nothing but treat us badly for years, for decades, on an economic and social level. Even if we don’t speak Catalan it makes us uncomfortable to see the Spanish state maltreat it. It’s not our language, but it’s an injustice, and we don’t like that.
“This vote will be my first and the first for many others, and what’s more it’s a vote with a possibility many haven’t seen in a long time; the chance to decide our immediate and long-term future for generations to come.”
By chance, of course, we were in town for the Barcelona-Real Madrid match. We popped in to a Real supporters’ club in the Lloreda neighbourhood. Club co-founder Blas Martínez lives in Salamanca today and watches the independence process from central Spain.
“Look around you and you’ll see most places are getting rid of borders. Here we, or they, are trying to do something that looks like a mess to me. We’ll be stuck outside Europe with a different currency,” he said.
“I’m neither for nor against the November vote. If they want to do it let them. But everyone should go and vote. We should know if all Catalans, and everyone who lives here, is for independence. Because I think there are plenty of people who don’t want it.”
Back in the centre of Barcelona we went to talk to Sociologist
Marina Subirats. During the 1990s she ran Madrid’s Institute of Women, then she was an elected Barcelona councillor in charge of education. She also represented one of the city’s poorest districts, Nou Barris.
“Nationalism would be, in my opinion, insisting on Catalona’s culture and traditions, but no-one’s interested! It’s not attractive enough. What does attract people is the chance of doing something new in the future, even if we might think it won’t be so new, and that the old problems will return,” said Subirats.
“I’d even say, independent from what? Because we are more dependent than ever! Because, really, we do not only depend on the Spanish state we want to sever ourselves from, but also the EU, and the world economy. For these reasons independence is more utopian than ever.”
José Ángel’s father, José Rodríguez, was born 67 years ago in Tetouan in Morocco, when it was still a Spanish protectorate, but he has Grenadan Andalucian origins. He has lived in El Carmel for 40 years, but he does not share his son’s vision.
“Clearly what’s going on in Catalonia is hurting us. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Those of us who come from elsewhere are wondering, what will we do? Are we Catalans or Spanish? Will we get an ID card or a passport with independence? What will we be? I don’t know.
“The Catalan government needs to explain it to us.Not to Catalans, they’ll all vote for independence for sure, but for us, who have lived here 40, 50 years, what’s to become of us?”
This is a referendum without a campaign or rallies as Madrid refuses to recognise the vote. It is not know either if the question will be decided with snap regional elections, and the polls are pure supposition.
José Ángel got some friends and neighbours together to discuss independence with him.
“I think flags are just pieces of cloth. I’m first and foremost from Barcelona, then Catalonia, then the Iberian peninsular,” said Ricardo.
“Catalonia and Spain can’t ignore each other. They must get over their different politics and agree. It would be better if we were already exploring common ground,” added Jordi.
“I believe that if we aren’t building a better nation for citizens to live in than I don’t want to be a part of it. I’m not doubting people’s desire for something better, I’m doubting the leaders of this process. I think they want to keep the status quo,” said Alex.
All three expressed themselves in Catalan, and are not worried that José responds in Spanish, saying: “You yourself have many times complained that today money isn’t shared fairly. I agree with you when you say it’s the people who pay taxes, but we have a welfare state here.
“That means I don’t go to hospital in Salamanca, but much more often to Barcelona. You know the regions’ fiscal structure, it’s awful. In Europe no-one has a system as bad as ours, or Valencia’s. There are other Spanish regions whose finances are in deep trouble, but some others who have money to spare,” he concluded.
The last word goes to Jessica: “Backing for independence has risen a lot in the last decade, and it’s going to grow more. People like me who don’t support it are more and more marginalised and unrepresented by Madrid’s governments, past and current. They’ve given up on us, as if we don’t count. No arguments have been raised in our defence, to enable us to defend our position. They’ll write us off as beaten sooner or later,” she says, in Spanish.